THE PILOT EDITORIAL - Pulling a switch

Tuesday, March 13, 2001

If you can't beat them, the old adage goes, join them. In the nation's legislature, it might be even better to get them to join you.

It is being claimed that Republicans in the House recently offered Rep. Leonard Boswell a coveted seat on the House Appropriations Committee - the country's pursestrings - if he agreed to switch parties.

Boswell turned it down.

The attempt is interesting, however. The offer didn't come because Republicans have any great love lost for Boswell.

Republicans barely hold control of the House by a handful of votes; the Senate is split evenly. Control of America's politics in a time of key issues and approaching key elections is on a political razor's edge.

Boswell, a retired military officer and a livestock businessman with some national clout, probably looked like an inviting, borderline conservative target. His past status as president of the Iowa Senate didn't hurt his allure any.

It would have cemented the GOP edge if it could have enticed a promising Democrat to abandon his party mid-stream.

It's hard to fault Republicans for taking the gamble to try to swing Boswell; even if they do end up with a bit of ethical egg on their faces. The gain would have been worth the risk, not just in power and numbers, but in stroke with voters all over the state who are also in that moderate gray area.

Still, Boswell did the right thing; and any other state senators and representatives who may be courted to switch should do the same.

The people elect an individual to follow through on what they pledge during a campaign. If one waffles between parties mid-term, how can they be trusted to stand firm on an issue; or for that matter, on anything?

If Boswell had hit on the offer, he would have in a very real way been trading integrity for power; people would have seen it right away. Seats on influential committees - and this is perhaps the most influential of them all - should not be traded off like the rights to a minor league shortstop and two players to be named later.

They should go to people with experience, people who can judge the needs of the entire state fairly and responsibly. Yeah, it looks like Boswell is such a person, but don't look for the GOP to hand over that seat without getting something back in political gain.

Changes of party are fairly rare, and should be. When they happen, they should happen as statements of a major change of heart or a separation over an unresolvable difference over a critical issue. And they should happen at the end of a term, so that voters can make the choice next time around with knowledge of the new affiliation.

Buying the political advantage in the statehouse rubs us a little wrong, even if it is a savvy political move. Like the proms soon to arrive at area high schools this spring, it is still the best policy to dance with the one who brought you.